The School Board met in the District Office auditorium on Dec. 11 because they expected a large crowd. During the work session the crowd consisted of about 30 people. The audience doubled later during the regular session of the meeting.
Junior highs will be middle schools; School Board's vote is split, 3-2
After months of discussion, numerous town meetings and a three-and-a-half hour marathon session, the Carbon School District Board of Education voted on Wednesday to move the ninth grade classes from Mont Harmon Junior High and Helper Junior High into Carbon High School next year, thus creating two middle schools in the district.
The vote also moved sixth graders from the district's elementary schools into those new middle schools.
The vote was three to two.
"Even though we voted to go ahead with this, I am sure that at the next board meeting (in January) we will discuss some of the concerns and start to answer some of the questions that board members had," said Kristen Taylor, one of the members of the board that voted for the change. Voting against the change was Board President Wayne Woodward and Board Member Jeff Richens.
The entire process began in June, when the district was trying to figure out what to do about some elementary schools that were busting at the seams with students while the high school enrollment had dropped to an all time low. There was lots of space at Carbon High, but how could it be utilized? The idea was submitted that maybe middle schools should be formed and a freshman class be admitted to the high school.
Then by taking sixth grade students out of the elementaries and putting them in the present junior highs and converting them to middle schools the primary overcrowding could be mitigated.
As the movement to do so gained momentum, the district's administration began to study the ramifications of such a move. They asked themselves if it would be a positive thing or a negative. While many administrators liked the idea, others weren't so sure.
Superintendent Steve Carlsen made no bones he thought it would be a good move.
"I grew up in this kind of system, my kids went to schools that had this kind of system and I worked in this kind of system in the districts where I was previously employed," said Carlson in the regular school board meeting in November. "I am all for it."
Over the months the plans began to develop and by that November meeting it was pretty well set that it was time for the public to officially chime in on the idea. While comments from schools and parents had already been heard it was felt by board members that they, along with some of the administration go out and hear what the public had to say. So in the middle of November town meetings were held at every school affected and those meetings wrapped up in early December.
In the meantime, the administration in the district office and in the schools had come together on an implementation plan if the board approved such a move. On Wednesday night every school affected by the move had an administrator sitting in the front row facing the board.
The board heard a 75 minute presentation from the administration in their work session which was held in the district office's auditorium rather than in the normal board room. It was held there because it was felt that many parents and teachers would show up to watch the proceedings. However, during the work session only about two dozen people were there.
While the initial idea for such a move was about having space for students in elementary schools without having to move in more relocatable classrooms, the administration laid out many more positives that they thought such a plan would create. These included:
More effective and efficient deployment of existing staff (using more teachers where their strengths are and also adding professional development plans for teachers who will need more training with the changes in grades in the various schools).
The move would address a shortage funds in the maintenance and operations budget as well as in capital outlay.
The grades put together in this manner would align more closely with the Utah Core curriculum.
The new five block system instituted in the secondary schools would allow more time for language arts, reading and particularly math (students will have math every day). This would also create a uniform schedule in the secondaries.
The new system would provide real time for targeted interventions (students that need help) by having time to do it during the school day instead of asking students to come to school early or stay after.
It relieves accreditation procedures at the junior highs which is time consuming and takes away time of many who work there from the business of educating students.
And it offers more electives and developmentally appropriate course work.
As the time for the regular board meeting approached the chairs in the room began to fill up with parents and other educators. By the middle of the regular session there were over 60 people in the audience besides those that came to the initial presentation.
Surprisingly, despite a lot of comments in past meetings and at the town hall meetings no one came forward during the public session from the audience to speak. All the board members had questions with Woodward and Richens asking the bulk of them. Richens asked questions about transportation, credits, discipline problems amongst sixth graders, how the middle schools would be physically structured with the sixth graders being in a kind of protected core, as well as about special needs students.
But Woodward brought up a question that has been hanging over this issue since it was first discussed; how well middle schools actually work.
"We had a middle school before in this district," he said concerning the Westridge Middle School that used to inhabit the very building the meeting was being held in. "I had four kids that went through that system, and I really struggled with it. I don't think it worked well for us. I see no plan on age appropriate teaching. This gives me a lot of pause. And the faculty of these schools face a paradigm shift that I think has been inadequately addressed."
Board member Lee McCourt replied to Woodward that while he may have struggled with the old middle school, the kids who went through it largely saw it differently.
"I asked my kids that went through it too and they don't really remember it being a problem," she said. "I think our perception as parents is very different from what they saw."
Taylor pointed out that anything new will have its problems at the beginning.
"At some point you get started and you get better at it," she said. "We need to assume that everyone has positive intentions here and that we need to patient. They don't have all the answers tonight but with decreasing money and old schools we've done the best we can. I think the administration has answered all they could tonight. If we don't do this it will not be fair to the schools. Carbon High is too small while some of the elementaries are overcrowded."
At that point Melanie Fausett moved to pass the measure. Richens challenged it.
"Maybe we should wait another 28 days (until the next regular board meeting) to give the staff time to answer some of the questions we have raised?"
But the vote went on, and resulted in the 3-2 decision which will bring the change on at the beginning of the 2014-15 school year.